Elizabeth Tsai

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?
I conducted research in developmental neurobiology with Dr. Richard T. Robertson, Chair of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the UCI College of Medicine. The goal of our project was to determine the mechanism by which growing axons find their target cells in the brain. Interactions between neurons and their respective axons set up the entire circuitry of the nervous system. The mechanism for the formations of these axon-cell connections is still uncertain, and therefore, needs to be identified in order for a complete understanding of the development of the nervous system. My specific project focused on the development of basal forebrain cholinergic projections to the hippocampus and adjacent cortex.
2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I began conducting undergraduate research during the Spring Quarter of my freshman year. To find a research lab, I looked up the primary research interests of the faculty profiled on the UCI web site. I then contacted the professors whose projects interested me, and set up meetings to talk to them.

3. How has research enhanced you education?

Undergraduate research has been a rewarding and worthwhile experience that has enriched my total education. Through research, I have become adept at modern biological research techniques and have utilized problem-solving skills. I have also learned how to write research grant proposals, present my research findings, and write scientific papers. During my sophomore year, I applied for and was awarded a UROP grant to fund my research project. Later that year, I was honored to present my research project at the UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium, where I shared my experimental findings with the academic community at UCI. Undergraduate research offers the unique opportunity to learn new skills and to apply scientific knowledge in a hands-on manner, unlike that of the classroom environment.

4. What has been you favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?
In the past year, I have had the exciting opportunity of being the first author for a manuscript on the experimental findings of my independent research project. My paper, titled "Basal Forebrain Cholinergic Cell Attachment and Neurite Outgrowth on Organotypic Slice Cultures of Hippocampal Formation," was recently published in the December 9, 2002 issue of Neuroscience. This publication is significant to me because it represents the culmination of my many years of investigation, in which I learned so much and gained a new respect for life. I feel honored and privileged to be able to share my findings with distinguished scientific researchers.
5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

My future plan is to become a physician. My desire to pursue a career in medicine stems from my passion for helping others and from my interest in the basic sciences. Being able to contribute to new knowledge has been a rewarding experience for me, and I plan to continue research during medical school at UCLA School of Medicine. Research has helped me prepare for a career in medicine by teaching me to think independently and to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?
I would advise students to pursue research in a field that particularly interests them. Research is challenging and requires a lot of hard work. As a result, it is very important to love what you are doing and to be passionate about the project you are working on. I was lucky enough to work with people whom I both respected and enjoyed being with. I was also very enthusiastic about my project and our findings. Those aspects made all the difference in my research experience.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '02 Ping Chen
Nov. '02 Sanjay Naran
Oct. '02 Alana Shilling
Sep. '02 Michael Vongphoe
Aug. '02 Ryan Wright
Jul. '02 Adrian Fernandez
Jun. '02 Allen Andres
May '02 Elizabeth Tsai
Apr. '02 David Bear
Mar. '02 Lorrel Brown
Feb. '02 Jiri Herrmann
Jan. '02 Kathi Hamor
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